Site announced for proposed arts center in downtown Elmhurst
An Elmhurst group that has been working for almost three years to bring a performing arts center to the heart of downtown on Tuesday publicly identified the site for its proposed 50,000-square-foot multistage facility as 109-119 W. First St.
Elmhurst Centre for Performing Arts board members signed a contract to purchase the site across from the city's Metra station in January but kept its location under wraps until this week.
The dream is to eventually raze the existing building and replace it with a sparkling new facility that would include 550- and 130-seat theaters as well as backstage and rehearsal areas, office space, a lobby with a cafe and bar, and classrooms.
The long-term goal is both simple and complicated: Create a hub for the performing arts in Elmhurst and surrounding communities that regularly features theater, music, dance and comedy.
But while Tuesday's curtain raising was filled with optimism, organizers know the success of this particular play will rise or fall on the second act that focuses on the coldest and least artistic of all things -- money.
First, ECPA must secure funding to close on the sale this summer, Treasurer Laura Michaud said.
If the nonprofit can't secure commitments for the initial funding, she said, "we'd have to reassess who we are and what we want to be."
If the closing does go through, the next phase will be even more challenging as organizers try to fund the project entirely with private money from donations, grants and naming rights. A report from Naperville-based philanthropic consultants Pruehs & Associates, due in the next two months, is expected to guide board members into that next phase.
Michaud said she's optimistic that an area that already supports roughly 30 arts groups and has backed significant expenditures for a new public library and school improvements will support this project, too.
"My gut tells me the community will continue to rally around this," she said.
For now, organizers have answered the second-most asked question of the project's script: Where's the center going to be?
From its inception in 2016, ECPA has focused on finding a location that's within walking distance of downtown restaurants and shops and accessible by public transportation -- especially Metra. In a booming downtown, the targeted site meets all those criteria.
A study conducted by Chicago-based Johnson Consulting Group in 2018 indicated such a downtown location could generate $7 million a year, with each patron spending roughly $50 at bars, restaurants and shops.
If that's true, the proposed arts center could have a far-reaching positive economic impact.
"ECPA will be a great addition to our city," Mayor Steve Morley said in a written statement. "A quality performing arts center will add a cultural venue to support local, regional and national artists as well as offering a resource for other public and private events. ECPA also provides an important piece to our expanding downtown, all of which brings economic value to our thriving community."
But Michaud cautions that even under the best circumstances it will take time for the group to raise money, design the center and then build it. That's good news for the tenants of the existing building, who won't have to immediately find new digs.
"It's going to be three to five years before we put our first brick up," Michaud said.
Still, she said the Johnson study indicates Elmhurst's demographics "are ripe for a theater here" and interest in the arts is high -- from York High School's award-winning drama department to Elmhurst College's celebrated theater and jazz programs.
"We are thrilled to secure land and architectural renderings for the performing arts center," ECPA Chairman Jeff Budgell said. "The community has provided tremendous financial and enthusiastic support, which continue to propel this long-term project forward. ... We move now to another important milestone to identify funding."
A member of the ECPA board, which also includes playwright and local businessman Doug Peterson, York High School Theater Director Rebecca Marianetti and former Mayor Tom Marcucci, will discuss the group's plans at a public meeting at 7 p.m. March 11 at Elmhurst Public Library in Wilder Park. Details on the initiative are available at ecpa-elmhurst.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.